What My Puppy Teaches Me About Love

When I lost my dog, I didn't want a new puppy. But Emma changed all that.

by Marcia Reich • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

Emma will turn 2 in July, and unlike children, puppies of that age are supposed to get “better.” They are supposed to sit, stay and stop chewing up your shoes, shredding toilet paper and nudging you tirelessly to take them out. At 2, dogs are supposed to become more reliable and trustworthy. This is what the breeder or the shelter will tell you as they wave you off with a cute little crate for the eight-pound blessing you are going home with: “Don’t worry, by the time Emma is 18 months, she will ...” And I don’t remember the last few words that were spoken to me after that.

The next few months were a blur. Fact: Large breed dogs are only cute puppies for about two days, and that crate you imagined the little blessing would hang out in for a while lasts for less than a month. Your puppy will seem to morph into something newer and larger everyday.

From the beginning, Emma followed me around, hovering as close to my ankles as anything can. Her attachment to me only increased as I became more aloof. It became a challenge to her. She was determined to win me over with her black-and-white freckles, sad, dark eyes and a coat as soft as cotton. Emma has a lot going for her; she is truly the most adorable dog we have ever had. But her need to be nose-to-nose with me can sometimes make me crazy. When I sneak off to the bathroom, Emma’s special radar is alerted. Lying close to the door, she attempts to flatten herself out so that she can slide under the door and be with me. Her whimpering can make anything other than a speedy void painful for anyone around.

And now the big reveal: I didn’t want Emma. When our previous dog died suddenly, I was truly devastated — as most animal lovers are — but I was not ready to start over with a puppy at this stage in my life. My husband wanted her. He promised to be the one to take care of her. He would walk her and feed her. He would leave work early — yada, yada, yada. NOT! Just as I knew it would be — Emma is mine most of the time. I threw a bunch of tantrums at the beginning as life as I was beginning to know it took a sharp turn. No sooner had the kids left the nest that I had this handful of destructive energy to train and manage. I hated it! And I mean, I hated it.

And then it happened — a moment of exquisite purity and simplicity. Last week I was sitting at my desk lost in my thoughts, my fingers tapping away on the keyboard when I felt Emma’s head rest in the crook of my arm. She didn’t nudge or whine, she lay her head down gently and snuggled closer to me. I looked down, and she looked up, and the moment took my breath away. She didn’t want anything from me except to be close, to be assured that she was safe and loved.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other. ” In that quiet moment between dog and human, I found myself thinking about how humans love and how that love is so often fraught with need and urgency. Emma reminds me that at its best, love is quiet and just simply present. Hopefully I can remember that moment when I find her rummaging through the garbage can or diving head first into a pool of mud.

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